22 December 2021

Big conversation series: te ao Māori and local governance

We have begun to explore some of the ‘big conversations’ related to the complex challenges of the kaupapa of the Review into the Future for Local Government. To do so, we invited international and New Zealand-based experts to help further our thinking about the intersect and potential of te ao Māori and future for local governance in Aotearoa.

Big conversation series: te ao Māori and local governance

What would it look like if we had an indigenous Aotearoa-based local democracy that enables self-determination? This was the subject of one of our ‘big conversations’ held in December.

The discussion was chaired by Panel member, Antoine Coffin, and we were joined by discussants Dame Anne Salmond, Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, Professor Dominic O’Sullivan and Tipa Mahuta. Their combined knowledge about te ao Māori, mātauranga Māori and local governance made for an insightful and thought-provoking kōrero.

Our ‘big conversations’ are a Panel workshop series, where experts are invited to join us to further our thinking about some of the important and complex challenges and issues relating to the kaupapa of our mahi.

This discussion was made up of three parts. In part one, Dame Anne Salmond and Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal discussed the relevance, application and opportunities of tikanga Māori to local governance. Part two involved a presentation by Dominic O’Sullivan about the changes needed to local governance to promote tino rangatiratanga, mana motuhake and a Tipa Mahuta shared a video about the kaitiaki of Waikato River and the importance of growing  tomorrow’s kaitiaki. The final part was an open discussion between the discussants and the Panel on where the kōrero intersects and what it could mean and enable for the future for local governance and local democracy.

Who participated

  • Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal is a music/story composer and a researcher/teacher of indigenous knowledge, including mātauranga Māori. He noted his work on indigenising democracy and discussed his latest research project concerning tangata whenua relationships with the Wairoa River, Te Tai Tokerau. This project articulates the need to enable tangata whenua led ‘ground up’ solutions to local environmental and community management issues. He believes the Crown has failed to care for te taiao. These approaches are based on the idea of humankind as part of the natural order not superior to it. This is an expression of tino rangatiratanga that need not be in competition with kāwanatanga but rather supplement it. It thus offers a glimpse of how a future system might work. He also explained that the value of mātauranga Māori is not that it may answer everything but rather offer different starting points for journeys to solutions. Finally, he suggested that relationships with iwi/hapū/whānau will not be addressed adequately until the question of mana whenua is addressed.
  • Dame Anne Salmond is an historian and Professor of Māori Studies at the University of Auckland. She provided three points for a future system of local governance to have: an understanding of its strengths and weaknesses; the ability to support and enable alternative approaches to environmental and community management which include tangata whenua; and recognition of the fundamental right of mana whenua to manage as they see fit without interference from local authorities.
  • Dominic O’Sullivan (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu) is a Professor of Political Science at Charles Sturt University, in Australia. He spoke about the imbalance of power in partnerships between iwi/Māori and the Crown and the exclusion of Māori from decision-making. He suggested that we need legislative change to clarify te Tiriti aspects of local governance and create decision-making bodies for rangatiratanga. Experts in tikanga should lead the drafting. He says we need a mature conversation between iwi/Māori and Crown, where mana whenua authority is normalised.
  • Tipa Mahuta is Chair of the Māori Advisory to Taumata Arowai (Crown Water Regulator) and a Councillor at Waikato Regional Council. She spoke about her hopes that in 30 years’ time her mokopuna won’t be fighting the same conversation about rights that she is today. She shared a video about the Waikato River and the importance of growing tomorrow’s kaitiaki. She also spoke about the need to revisit the voice of te Tiriti in its own language, especially Article 3. 

Key notes and themes from the discussion

  • Iwi and Māori communities see local government (and all ‘authorities’) as an arm of the Crown, and the need for local government to recognise that and respond appropriately.
  • A strong and genuine relationship between iwi/Māori and the Crown is necessary moving forward. The current imbalance of power does not allow iwi/Māori to make progress. We cannot achieve tino rangatiratanga through kāwanatanga structures.
  • Looking after the environment is an important, yet frequently lacking, aspect of relationships between iwi/Māori and local government. The ways we are currently going about looking after the environment are not effective.
  • Iwi have the right to manage and make decisions about the things that affect them without the permission of the Crown. Barriers and restrictions from the Crown should be removed, the Crown should be enablers, not the barrier.

Please note that the discussions and comments in this conversation are not necessarily the views of the Panel. These conversations are an important part in exploring the topics surrounding the Review but should not be taken as our recommendations or our opinions.

Recommended reading

Guaranteed Māori representation in local government is about self-determination - and it’s good for democracy – Dominic O’Sullivan

Dominic O’Sullivan writes about the importance of ensuring room for Māori to be Māori in this article about Māori representation in local government. He addresses the arguments for and against Māori representation and looks further afield to Canada and Australia for lessons New Zealand can learn from.


Challenges on the path to Treaty-based Local Government relationships – Maria Bargh

Maria Bargh, Professor of Māori Studies at Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington, examines some of the challenges for Māori and local government on the path to Treaty-based relationships.


Māori constitutional reforms – Margaret Mutu

A blog post by Margaret Mutu (Ngāti Kahu, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Whātua) who is a Professor in the Department of Māori Studies at the University of Auckland, expresses the unique challenges Aotearoa faces in regard to constitutional transformation.


Colonisation, hauora and whenua in Aotearoa – Helen Moewaka Barnes and Tim McCreanor

This paper looks into the broad indicators of relational health and wellbeing in Aotearoa and considers how Māori understanding of whenua, health and wellbeing could lead to healing opportunities for people and whenua.


Self-Governance in Bolivia’s First Indigenous Autonomy: Charagua – Nancy Postero and Jason Tockman

Nancy Postero and Jason Tockman explore the construction of novel institutions of self-government and assess how local leaders in Bolivia’s first “Indigenous autonomous government” are negotiating autonomy, both externally and internally.


A flawed Treaty partner: The New Zealand state, local government and the politics of recognition – Avril Bell

Local authorities, while important actors in the lives of iwi and hapū, are not Treaty partners and they have an ambiguous role in the lives of post-settlement Māori communities. This paper explores the current state of local government as a partner to iwi and hapū.

What do you think?

Let us know your thoughts on local governance and te ao Māori here.